Councilors and committee members said new studies could help develop incentives to attract workforce members to Charlottesville.
“It is almost impossible to find somebody who works full-time at a low wage in Charlottesville a place to live,” said Dan Rosensweig, a city planning commissioner and housing committee member. “From a reasonable perspective, there is no affordable housing inventory that is available.”
Committee member Frank Stoner noted that there are only 68 residences under $210,000 currently on the market.
“That points to the need to get a more comprehensive study,” he said.
Further studies also could aid in seeing how off-campus student housing affects the local affordable housing stock, councilors and committee members said.
Kathy McHugh, city housing development specialist, said that building projects such as the Flats at West Village and the Pavilion at North Grounds have driven the interest in studying student housing.
“We’re looking for the impact of off-campus student housing on the city of Charlottesville’s overall housing stock, and the impact of student housing on the city of Charlottesville’s affordable housing stock,” she said.
Committee members said that off-campus student housing may be skewing local affordable housing data. Although students’ incomes typically are very low, their parents are often the ones paying the rent.
“If we could extract students from the mix, then we would have an accurate picture of where the level of housing is,” said committee member Chris Murray.
McHugh said the results of the study could be used to inform the city’s investment in affordable housing.
Jim Tolbert, director of the city’s neighborhood development services, said there are several questions about the Charlottesville workforce that a study might also be able to answer.
“If there’s somebody who’s driving from Fluvanna and working in town, how do we get them housing?” Tolbert asked. “What are the reasons that they’re not living here?”
Committee member and Councilor Kristin Szakos said that it might be difficult to convince people to leave their homes in the surrounding counties to move to the city. She said a study might be able to ascertain what incentives would put the city on the radar of people moving to the area and looking for housing.
Committee member Charlie Armstrong said student housing and affordability affect each other in many ways. He used the example of a new apartment complex that could pull students out of the Venable neighborhood, generating changes in affordability elsewhere.
“Those are the interactions that we don’t know anything about except for anecdotal conversations,” Armstrong said.
Members of the Housing Advisory Committee offered to spend more time identifying what questions the studies should answer and how the city could use the results to create worthwhile policies.
“The scope and the questions to ask need a little more delineation,” Rosensweig said. “How do we ask questions so that we end up with something that’s actually useful in terms of formulating policy?”
Szakos said that interviewing individuals to ask them what policies are getting in the way of finding housing in the city would be a critical piece of the studies. She said such interviews would generate some ideas of what the city should be doing to help.
“I want to make sure that at the end of the day this study isn’t justification for us to pat ourselves on the back and reduce our commitment [to providing affordable housing],” Rosensweig said.